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The magic of education in Finland

Barbara Bruns's picture
Photo Credit: Barbara Bruns / World Bank

Anyone working in education is familiar with the story of Finland’s remarkable evolution into one of the world’s top-performing education systems. The country ranked fifth in science and sixth in reading on the 2012 PISA assessment, second on the 2012 PIAAC (the new OECD test of adult literacy) , and is routinely in the top five of practically every other international measure of education quality.  To visitors from standards-and-accountability-heavy countries such as the UK and the US, or from low-performing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Finland’s formula can seem like magic.   All teachers have a Master’s degree. There is no student testing. There are no school inspections or rankings. Students have little homework and teachers work few hours. Teachers are trusted professionals with full autonomy in the classroom.               

My study tour to Finland in September 2015 convinced me that this formula is indeed magic.  Why?  Because the popular version of the “Finnish story” neglects elements of the institutional context that are so hard-wired into the system that the locals hardly register them.  Three crucial elements, in particular, create an accountability framework that makes it possible for the “magic” to work. 

Tertiary Education at a Crossroads: Tales from Different Parts of the World

Francisco Marmolejo's picture
Also available in: Español | Français

It has been seven months since I joined The World Bank as a Lead Education Specialist coordinating their work on tertiary education. During this short period, I have met with people from across the globe, read a variety of reports, and participated in technical review meetings and missions with government officials and institutional leaders. In summary, I have been learning as fast as I can, about how this fascinating but complex organization operates, and about its unique contribution (not exempt from controversy) to development in the world.

These past few months have taken me across the world, from Latin America, to the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, and Europe, on a journey that has provided me the unique and privileged opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities that tertiary education is facing in the world. It is precisely such reasoning that led us, at the World Bank to organize a year-long lecture and panel series entitled “Tertiary Education at a Crossroads” during which we hope to engage in collective reflection on issues and trends in tertiary education, and confront them with an ambitious agenda towards eliminating extreme poverty in the world, by enabling shared prosperity in a sustainable planet.
 

Can the Private Sector Play a Helpful Role in Education? It Can, If it Targets Disadvantaged Students

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

The following piece appeared as a guest blog in the UK's Guardian this past week.

Students from Harlem Childrens' Zone with its president, Geoffrey Canada. A good public education system means public spending – but not necessarily public provision.

In OECD countries, more than 20% of public education expenditure goes to private institutions – communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), faith-based organisations, trade unions, private companies, small informal providers and individual practitioners – and about 12% is spent on privately-managed institutions.

But does private participation mean higher quality education? Does it bring better exam results? Can it encourage greater equality?

Can Disseminating Information Lead to Better Learning Outcomes?

Deon Filmer's picture

When my wife and I were looking for where to live in Washington DC, an important part of the decision was the quality of the local public school that our children would (eventually) attend.  But how to judge quality?  Talking to lots of people was the first step.  Taking schools tours was another.  But researching test scores was a key factor.  We wanted a school with a good learning environment, a sense that parents had a positive feeling about the place—but also wanted to know that the school had a track record of good learning outcomes.  Thankfully, the performance of public schools in Washington DC is accessible online and can be compared across schools.  This information was an important input into our decision.  And it remains an important way in which we monitor school performance.  We pay close attention to our own children’s academic development, talk to their teachers regularly, and try to be attentive to the many subtle indicators of the quality of education that they are receiving.  But the annually released test scores provide an externally validated stock-taking of one aspect of that quality.

Working Together, Governments and Unions of Top-Performing Countries Show that it is Possible to Improve the Teaching Profession

Emiliana Vegas's picture

Last week, I traveled to New York City to attend the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession hosted by the US Department of Education, the OECD, and Education International, a global teachers union.  Of the 16 countries represented, all were top-performers in the international PISA tests, or rapid improvers, such as Poland and Brazil.  U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the meeting to learn from what other countries are doing to improve teaching and learning, a sign that not only is this task complex and challenging, but that it is critical to countries at all levels of development.

So how do these top-performers and rapid-improvers manage their teaching forces to achieve high learning outcomes? The goal of the Summit was to have frank and open discussions about what works. Each country’s delegation included both government and teacher representatives, thus recognizing from the start the need for collaboration in the design and implementation of teacher policy reforms.

Life in a School

Jishnu Das's picture

We usually think of schooling as a positive learning experience. However, sometimes this is not always the case. As recent news reports in the Hindu and on NDTV from India remind us, unfortunately for some children in low-income countries, schooling can be a nasty, brutal and short experience. They may suffer physical abuse, humiliation and be forced to endure the worst possible learning environments, while returning for the same punishment day after day after day.

Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Development

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

Blogging from the World Bank's Indigenous Peoples Research Dissemination Workshop in Washington DC.

As is well known, there are more 300 million indigenous peoples in the world.  While they make up fewer than 5 percent of the global population they account for about 10 percent of the world’s poor.  Next year, Cambridge University Press will publish my book with Gillette Hall on the state of the world’s indigenous peoples

As part of the dissemination process, we have brought together most of the contributors to our volume for a workshop in Washington D.C. today, to share their research with each other and with an audience of World Bank staff, researchers and others from the development community. We expect a lively discussion on our forthcoming publication, which covers countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. 

Global Hunger? School Feeding Offers Double Dividend of Healthier Children and Better Chances in the Classroom

Donald Bundy's picture

Co-authored by Lesley Drake, Director of the Partnership for Child Development

As leaves crackled and autumn closed in on Washington DC at this time last year, the Brookings Institution played host for a special event focused on global hunger. At that time, World Bank President, Robert B. Zoellick, joined Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, for a pre-Thanksgiving discussion on the fight against food insecurity that continues to wage on for millions around the globe.

Many of those hungry are the most vulnerable—particularly children.

Are Non-Cognitive Gains in Education More Important than Test-Scores?

Jishnu Das's picture

Most educational interventions are widely considered successful if they increase test-scores -- which indicate cognitive ability. Presumably, this is because higher test-scores in school imply gains such as higher wages later on. 

However, non-cognitive outcomes also matter---a lot.

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